In my opinion, the most interesting golf tournament of the year arrives on Thursday when the 2012 US Open, version No. 112, returns to the Olympic Club in San Francisco for the first time since 1998.
While some golf fans don’t pay much attention until the weekend of big tournaments, if you are any sort of true fan, tune in Thursday and Friday simply because these are two of the threesomes going off together: Tiger Woods-Phil Mickelson-Bubba Watson and Luke Donald-Rory McIlroy-Lee Westwood.
You want storylines? That first group features 19 majors between the three, with Tiger looking for his first major since taking the 2008 US Open, Lefty looking for his first win at America’s championship after a record five runner-up finishes, and Watson trying to become only the fifth player – and first since Tiger in 2002 – to win the Masters and US Open in the same year. The other threesome features the top three players in the world as a European looks to take this title for the third year in a row. Of course, McIlroy is the defending champion and no player has repeated since Curtis Strange in 1988-89. Donald and Westwood, meanwhile, are looking for their first major titles.
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Olympic should be a beast this week as it hosts for the fifth time – there’s a reason the US Open is called “golf’s toughest test.” When Lee Janzen won here in 1998 he did so at even par. The first six holes at Olympic’s Lake Course “offers the hardest start in golf," according to USGA Executive Director and setup pro Mike Davis. Actually, the par-70 course that can stretch to 7,170 yards isn’t super long by US Open standards, but the par-5 16th is the longest hole in US Open history at a ridiculous 670 yards. You probably will see guys hitting anywhere 5-wood to 5-iron on their third shots, which is unheard of on Tour.
You may want to bet on a player who has yet to win a major this week. After each of the past eight major championships and 11 of the past 12, we have seen a first-time major winner emerge victorious. That's also been the case at six of the past seven US Opens. Also, in the past 14 majors, there have been 14 different winners. That’s one short of the longest streak of 15 — established in 1998 when Janzen won at Olympic — since the Masters was added to the majors rotation in 1934 to form a Grand Slam.
In each of the four previous US Opens held at Olympic, the winner came from behind on Sunday. Three of them were at least three shots behind, and Janzen was five shots back in ’98.
PGA Tour Golf Odds: US Open Favorites
Tiger enters off his impressive final-round performance two weeks ago at the Memorial for his second Tour win of the year and 73rd career overall to tie Jack Nicklaus’ career mark – fitting since the Memorial is Jack’s tournament. Thus, it’s little surprise that Woods is the 13/2 favorite on Bovada. Tiger has three US Opens to his credit, and two of those have come in California, so that perhaps bodes well. And no player who has played multiple Opens has a better average finish than Tiger’s 24.3. Woods missed last year’s event but finished no worse than sixth in the previous four, including that ’08 win. In 1998 at Olympic, Tiger finished T18 at 10-over.
Westwood and Donald are both at 11/1. The first-time major winner streak noted above obviously suits them well. However, an Englishman hasn’t won this tournament since 1970. Nick Faldo was the last from England to win a major, coming at the 1996 Masters. Westwood enters off a win on the European Tour last weekend. He was T7 in 1998 at Olympic. Donald is yet to have a Top-10 finish in eight US Opens. The last time the top-ranked player in the world not named Tiger Woods won a major as No. 1 was Fred Couples at the 1992 Masters.
McIlroy is 14/1 to defend. He had been playing awful, missing three straight cuts, before playing very well last week in Memphis. He might even have won if not for a double-bogey on his final hole. Of course, McIlroy set the 72-hole US Open scoring record with last year’s 16-under 268 at Congressional, but this course will be nothing like that was.
And will this finally be the time Lefty (20/1) breaks through? I think playing at least the first two rounds with Tiger will energize him as he has played very well when paired with Woods of late – remember the final round at Pebble earlier this year when Mickelson blew away Tiger to win? Mickelson has shot the lower score eight of the last 12 times the two have played together with one draw. But bad news for Lefty: Since Tom Kite won in 1992, the only player older than 37 to win this event was Payne Stewart in 1999.
PGA Tour Golf Odds: US Open Predictions
I’m not a fan of Woods this week as this looks awfully familiar to the spring when Tiger won at Bay Hill, was off the next week and then was T40 at Augusta. I think Tiger does get a Top-10, however (-200). And as much as I would like to see Mickelson win, he’s just not playing that well. I would take -175 that he misses the Top 10.
I said after the Masters that I am done picking Westwood to win majors other than the British Open. He’s still tempting, as Westwood has seven top-three finishes in majors without a win. That’s the most top-three finishes without a win since the Masters was added. Take Westwood at +115 to finish in the Top 10 but not to win. I don’t like Donald in the Top 10 (-150).
I would have loved Dustin Johnson (25/1) this week to win if he hadn’t gone and won in Memphis on Sunday. No player since Tiger in 2007 has won an event the week before a major and then won that major.
If Matt Kuchar (28/1) hadn’t won the Players Championship I probably would have liked him to win this week for his first major. The last time Kuchar came to Olympic at the US Open he tied for 14th as an amateur. Plus, Kuchar has the top scoring average on Tour at 69.80. I would take him at +275 to finish inside the Top 10.
But to win this week I’m going with Sergio Garcia at 40/1 to finally get his first major. He has been T22 or better in the past four US Opens and has two top-five finishes in his career. He also finished tied for third at last week on the Euro Tour (where he’s third in greens in regulation) so he’s got his game going.
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